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Bow Valley open mic nights offer unique supports, skills

BOW VALLEY – It’s arguably the worst feeling for a performing musician – that first initial walk up onto the stage, that first strum of the guitar, that first vocal note – but it is also the most exhilarating.
Hy5 Live Music
Kyle Pullan plucks his fretboard during a performance at Hy5 in Canmore on Saturday (March 31, 2018).

BOW VALLEY – It’s arguably the worst feeling for a performing musician – that first initial walk up onto the stage, that first strum of the guitar, that first vocal note – but it is also the most exhilarating. 

For aspiring musicians still hesitant about the spotlight, local open mic nights can be a great way to conquer, or at least subdue, that stage fright. 

Here in the Bow Valley, the music scene is vast, with a different open mic event almost every night of the week and most people will tell you there’s something special about it. 

Like Kyle Pullan, a local musician with an instrumental finger style on an acoustic guitar, known for his creativity with music. 

“Canmore’s very special in itself, it is kind of a bubble,” said local musician Kyle Pullan who has become known for instrumental finger style on an acoustic guitar.

“Being in Ontario right now you, know I’ve been going to a lot of open mics and meeting new people, that’s just what I do everywhere I go – it’s just different, there’s a different love and support in Canmore than there is anywhere else.” 

Garry Gonis, longtime Bow Valley resident and musician, who has been organizing open mics for 18 years, currently running Tommy’s on Thursdays, said he could go on for two days about the benefits of the jam sessions.

“There are no disadvantages – there’s just education, there’s just education,” Gonis said. “I feel the Banff and in the Bow Valley, we have our own little Banff Centre where people come to open mics and thrive.”

Gonis said he’s seen many performers come through the stage as a new performer and go on to start playing paid gigs.

“I’ve seen many people continue going, in fact many bands have started from open mics in the valley, they’re playing constantly now as a band or a group or a duo,” he said.

One of those performers was Pullan, who said open mics have allowed him the room needed to grow as a musician – a musician who is about to release his third album and has done hundreds of live performances. 

“It was super nerve wracking but everyone in the music community was super supportive – and they were with me every step of the way, and every step of the way was going to open mics, because that’s what I did. You know going out to Tavern and going to Good Earth, popping out into Banff once in a while,” he said. 

“I guess from there you kind of grow that confidence and that’s what led me to pursue my style even more.”

For local musician John Michaelz, opportunities to play at open mics or jam sessions have created opportunities to play paid gigs, which allowed him to continue living in the Valley. He said when he first arrived in Banff he only had enough money to stay for two weeks.

“I had to busk outside in the street, no contacts, I had nothing, right,” he said. 

Now, he runs the Jam Session (Open Mic themed but with an entire band and provided instruments) at Bruno’s on Friday nights, organizes the Latin Festival held at Wild Bill’s, and tries to encourage new musicians to play and experienced musicians to keep playing. 

“I just know the feeling of being hungry for gigs. I think the more I help people to become successful the more successful I become…  I used to have an ego but here I’ve learned it’s all about sharing and caring and not comparing,” he said. 

Whether it’s a budding musician or a long-term performer, it takes some time to get comfortable on a stage. An open mic night can help ease that stage fright and can be a wonderful place to dip your toes into the waters of performance. Gonis said if anything, it’s that live performance aspect that truly helps a musician grow. 

“It’s confidence in playing in front of people – you can have someone who’s really proficient instrumentally or vocally or both, but you put them in front of a crowd, they lose that because the interaction with the crowd and the atmosphere is more boisterous,” said Gonis. “Everyone’s staring at you, there’s loud talking going on and no one’s paying attention to you. That right there is the introduction to performing live.”  

Though Pullan agrees it makes you a better performer, he said that stage fright isn’t something that necessarily disappears.

“You know it never really goes away, you learn to control it and enjoy it in a sense, I still get nervous every time I play and I play a lot,” he said through a laugh. 

“Every show you get nervous, because it’s either new people that you want to play well for, or it’s friends that you also want to play well for… You kind of learn how to be in front of a crowd.”

Open mic nights have become increasingly popular over the years, according to Gonis, who said when he started, there may have been three opportunities in the entire valley, where as now there’s one almost every night of the week.  

“I think people are recognizing open mics because there’s so little limited place to practice or to even play, like you can’t do it in an apartment because you get too loud there’s just less and less space available … So open mics are the outlet to be able to play.”

Michaelz said it’s the connection and the feeling of happiness music brings that makes it all worth it. 

“It’s always a classic to say visibility … But it’s making that musical connection,” he said. 

“We have perceptions of careers, for me it’s all about eating, sleeping, playing music, being happy, so I see a lot of success in that. I get to see new musicians play live after a few months of meeting them.”

As for Pullan, one thing is clear – there is just something different about the way the valley musicians interact with and support each other. 

“I don’t know how to describe it… [The Bow Valley] is very accepting and supportive … We all kind of take care of each other and help each other grow in Canmore and Banff, and that’s kind of a special thing I haven’t seen anywhere else.” 

For more information on where to find an open mic night, check out The Buzz each week in the Outlook. 

About the Author: Alana MacLeod

Alana MacLeod is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Previously, she worked for Global News Toronto as a news producer and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @Lans_macleod
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